Home » News » Talent Management at Marks and Spencer – an interview with Tanith Dodge, Director of HR.

Talent Management at Marks and Spencer – an interview with Tanith Dodge, Director of HR.

Tanith Dodge joined M&S in March 2008 and is responsible for HR strategy and policy across the whole company. She is a member of the Executive Committee and has a team of 1,300 people with a focus on developing and rewarding people, retaining M&S’ position as an employer of choice, and using HR to drive better efficiencies across the business.

Q: How would you define “talent”?
A: It’s about having strong leaders at every level of the business, whether that’s Head Office or in our stores. Leadership capabilities are absolutely critical – especially in the current climate – so it’s our job to ensure our people have got the right capabilities and are properly supported.

Q: How does M&S identify employees with high potential?
A: We have an ongoing talent review to assess individuals’ performance and their attributes against talent indicators. We also identify who our talent is through performance management processes.  Line managers are critical to identifying talented individuals and to tailoring coaching and development programmes to their needs.

As well as looking at individuals with high potential, we’re also looking at the critical jobs and ensuring we have the right people in them.

Q: How do you ensure that you have a leadership pipeline at M&S?
A: The talent review process (see above) helps us to identify up-and-coming individuals and ensure they have the appropriate development opportunities to realise their potential. In addition, our flagship leadership programme Lead to Succeed targets the development of the ‘top 300’ most senior people at M&S. It will ensure that we have a continual step-change of leaders moving up through the ranks.

Q: At what stage does talent management begin?
A: It can be seen at every level, starting with ensuring we recruit the best talent into the business in the first place.  Performance management identifies who is performing well and has the potential to progress.  The review of talent management has to be systematic and therefore covers all aspects.

We’ve always believed in nurturing young talent so that we can grow the leaders of tomorrow, whether that’s on the shop floor, in the buying teams or any other Head Office role. In some respects talent management begins with our Graduate Recruitment and Development Programme, which identifies people who can quickly move up the ranks into management positions.

Q: Whose talent should be managed within an organisation?
A: We’re not only identifying and training the next generation of leaders, we’re also ensuring talented people within our business are given the right sort of training and encouragement to develop at all levels.

In addition, we encourage employees to learn from others and share best practice across the business, helping to give leaders the tools and techniques to support them in their roles. For instance, in our Buying and Food Academies, Directors host specialist masterclasses in everything from innovation and range planning, to ethical trading and identifying a best seller.

Q: Does your talent management strategy involve all levels of employee or just more senior employees?
A: We provide career programmes for all levels of the business.  The overall HR Business Plan is agreed with the Executive Committee and is then cascaded to the Top 100 HR practitioners who embed it in the business.

Q: How do you specifically develop potential leaders for their next promotion?
A: Once potential leaders have been identified, we ensure they are given the appropriate opportunities to stretch their abilities, through additional responsibilities, training etc.

Q: How is talent management linked to M&S’ overall business strategy and goals?
A: Our flagship leadership programme ‘Lead to Succeed’ measures our leaders’ progress against targets aligned to our brand values.

Q: How do you communicate your talent management strategy to M&S employees?
A: When I joined M&S, I started with some simple fact-finding to find out what the business needed from the people agenda. I ran focus groups and gathered information on the key areas where people believed HR could really add value.

Since then we have stepped-up the quality and quantity of communication across the business. The Top 100 briefing is designed to deliver Head Office messages to the top managers; Director Breakfast meetings have been increased so that people in stores can meet the leaders of different business units; and we also have ‘listening groups’ in stores so that any issues can be aired with Head Office.

Q: How important is it for the Board to support your talent management strategy?
A: Essential. The Board and the Nomination Committee are responsible for running successional planning reviews for key appointments to the Board and senior management.  They would review the succession plans for the Directors.

Q: How do you ensure that individual line managers take responsibility for talent management?
A: Our 2,000 line managers are critical to the motivation and retention of our talent right across the business. We run two key programmes for this group – Lead to Succeed and Managing for Success.  Both are designed to strengthen the capabilities of our line managers.

Q: Is talent management even more important in an economic downturn? If so, why?
Absolutely. It’s crucial to have strong leaders at the top in a downturn so you can come out of it even stronger.

Something that has been at the forefront of my mind is helping our senior managers to learn how to get through this difficult period and stay positive.  The process of managing a business through a downturn is uncharted water for many of today’s senior managers, having not experienced the early 1980s recession. So we are focused on helping them to learn how to help others get through this difficult period and stay positive. It is important to focus on the things they can control and not worry too much about things that are beyond their control and influence. They need to learn how to galvanise their teams and provide clear direction – keeping people focused and engaged. Honing their communication skills is vital to this process.

We’ve redesigned our leadership development programmes to focus on creating a new leadership style to address the current economic climate.

Q: How do you measure success in terms of talent management?
A: We track progress of our talent reviews on an ongoing basis, and analyse statistics each year to ensure we’ve got the right activities in place or to identify any gaps. In addition, our annual staff survey – Your Say – allows staff to tell us what they think about a range of issues, including training and development.

Q: Where do you see talent management as an HR issue in five years’ time?
A: We see it as a huge opportunity. Our ability to track individuals’ progress against our talent reviews will help us to retain our people longer, and to move them up and through different parts of the business.